Uyo is destination next, Nigerian soccer is going back to its roots. By Calabar, I mean the Akwa Ibom/Cross River axis. After all, many compatriots do not understand that some “Calabar” ladies we see around us may not even understand the lingo of their Oron suitors. But they are lumped into one generic name, “Calabar.”
Kudos Akwa United for lifting the Challenge Cup (the name keeps changing). A second time in two years, under Etubom Paul Bassey and ably backed by Governor Udom Emmanuel, at a time the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo is the home ground of our Mundial bound Eagles.
Let it be known that great names from the Akwa Ibom/ Cross River area have done so much towards the development of our football. Edet Wey rose to the position of Chief of Naval Staff and much later Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters after playing for Lagos Marine and the national team.
Oyo Orok Oyo was the longest serving Secretary General of the Nigeria Football Association. He was the first from the nation to make both the CAF and FIFA Executive Committees. First indigenous Inspector General of Police, Louis Orok Edet, was Chairman of the NFA in 1961 and Wey was Treasurer. Efiom Okon became NFA Chairman in 1989,returned in 1991.
Some accounts say football was introduced here in 1902 through the Hope Wadell Training Institute Calabar, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Alma Mater.By 1906, there was the Beverly Cup for teams in the Calabar zone. In 1935, it was replaced by the Trenchard Cup. Four years later, one Ekang had enough resources to set up Ekang Eleven in Lagos. The team took part in the 1939 Lagos League that comprised such teams as Marine, Railway, PWD, P and T and Police.
Many players left the Calabar area for Lagos and were outstanding. Names like Wey, Edet Ben, Mesembe Otu, Bassey Utit, Ekpeyong Iso, Iron Bar, Nya Nya Udo, Bassey Ikpeme, Ekpo, Okon and Nsa were crowd pullers. Left winger, Patrick Noquakpor, nicknamed ‘Rokpokpo’ after the popular Ghanaian dance step at the time, also dazzled.
Infact, the Calabar population in Lagos was bold enough to dare a Lagos team in Eko, on August 26, 1939. The hype was so much that after a 5-1 drubbing by the hosts, the Calabar brass band went underground. Such names as Ndanyongmon and Mawanonso bowed their heads. Their team mate, Michael Ani, would later head the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO).
Calabar made history when one of their own, Richard Etim Henshaw, scored the first Challenge Cup grand finale goal in 1945. He scored for Lagos Marine against Corinthians. Match referee was Hope Wadell old boy, Zik. Much later, one popular referee was Eyo Honesty.
Henshaw later captained the 1949 UK Tourist team, the first time a Nigerian soccer squad would play outside Africa. Other national team skippers from Henshaw’s zone include Asuquo Ekpe (1963), Andrew Uwe (1989) and Vincent Enyeama(2013).
Calabar was only able to lift the Challenge Cup in 1954. That feat was achieved by students of St. Patrick’s College, Calabar ably managed by Father Fitzgibbone. The schoolboys hammered defending champions, Kano 3-0.Tnat was the first time cup holders would be beaten in the grand finale.
After that, nothing was forthcoming. The area that boasted of quality goalies: Eyo Essien, Joe Erico, Moses Effiong, Raymond King, Etta Egbe and Vincent Enyeama had their sons doing well for other clubs and country. With great players like: Eyo Martins, Charles Bassey, Friday Ekpo,Time ‘Maradona’ Esin, James Etokebe, Uwem Ekarika, Peter Nieketien and Ene Okon, laurels were only won away from home.
Teams like Calabar Rovers, Jetimo Uyo, Customs Calabar, Acada United, Mobil Pegasus, Eket and Ibom Stars Uyo, came, saw and were conquered. We also remember the sore part when Port Harcourt Red Devils battered Ikot Ekpene 18-0 in the 1958 Challenge Cup.
Today, old things are passed away. Akwa United have brought back the glory. Winning the Challenge for the second time so soon means that there is a football revolution going on under the governor who has not even reached the zenith of his plans. For 60 long years, no major trophy followed the 1954 triumph. In two years since 2015, two successful Challenge Cup outings.
Bassey, the first Nigerian member of the CAF Media Committee( he made it at Senegal ’92), is part of this movement. He is also a Lagos boy,ex- St. Finbarr’s and speaks French. Time now to learn from the mistakes of a continental debut in 2016. Experience should come in handy. We may be seeing champagne soccer once again.